After spending over three weeks acclimating to life in the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe, India, 10 Spy reporters are ready and excited to share the insights and knowledge they have gained from the trip.
The group set out on May 15 accompanied by Assistant Professor and New Worcester Spy Advisor Cleve Wiese in hopes of sharpening their journalistic skills as well as learning about Tibetan culture and Buddhism. The idea of starting a study abroad trip such as this has always been a hope for Wiese.
“It’s been a long-time dream of mine to bring students to this fascinating and beautiful place, and I knew it would be the perfect environment to not only practice and learn about journalism but also to engage in some truly meaningful cultural exchange,” Wiese said.
Although it might sound counterintuitive to report from India for a locally-focused publication such as the Spy, these reporters believe that one of the best ways to really understand your hometown is to spend some time outside of it. While these articles about India can’t be considered local, in the simplest sense, these writers nevertheless hope that their stories will have significant impact for Worcester readers; they may even provide a fresh perspective on the challenges facing our city.
“Both Bylakuppe and Worcester are diverse places made up of people from all over the world. The history of both places comes more from external forces than internal ones, making them both quite unique,” Associate Editor and history major Timothy Jarvis said.
Throughout their weeks in the settlement, the Spy reporters worked with Radio Free Asia correspondent Pema Ngodup and met with highly respected people in the community, including the Chief Settlement Officer of the Old Tibetan Settlement in Bylakuppe, Geylek Jungnay; the President of the Bylakuppe chapter of the Tibetan Youth Congress, Tsering Lhakhyap and his executive board; the president of the Bylakuppe chapter of the Tibetan Women’s Association, Tenzin Drolma; and many others, all in the hopes of being able to write about the issues and challenges facing the settlement in a way that resonates with Worcester readers.
“Interviewing all these people really showed me how important [the Tibetan issue] is and how it needs to be addressed worldwide,” Spy Copy Chief Fay Bcharah said. “I’m hoping the Spy can be a step towards that.”
While on the trip, however, the team of reporters did far more than just journalism. They also collaborated with monks and nuns from the Ngagyur Nyingma Institute’s Padma Mani Translation Committee at Namdroling Monastery on a cultural exchange program. Throughout the program the Spy reporters received a number of teachings on Tibetan Buddhism from the monks and nuns and in exchange shared information about their majors back at Worcester State. As part of the program, the reporters were also asked to give a few lessons on conversational English to help the monks and nuns gain fluency skills.
“Working closely with the monks and nuns was such a rewarding experience for me.
Being able to learn about their everyday life and compare it to our schedules back home was eye opening,” reporter Christina Faria said. “My favorite part was being able to teach them conversational English by playing games that encouraged them to expand their vocabulary. I think the games were a lot of fun, and it was a completely different approach than their typical classroom format, typically consisting of lectures.”
The cultural exchange program was an eye-opening experience for the local reporters, who found their lives greatly at odds with those of the monks and nuns. But this exchange turned into more than just a formality, as true friendships were formed between the reporters and the Tibetan Buddhist scholars.
The team of reporters welcomed the challenges that they faced along the way. Life in India is very different than life in Worcester, but the reporters used these experiences as chances for personal and intellectual growth.
“Before coming to India, I was apprehensive about the living conditions,” Carol Chester, a graduate student of Worcester State said. “However, after spending a couple days at the monastery guest house, I got used to taking cold showers, washing out clothes by hand, and eating spicy food. The experience has made me much more resilient.”
The reporters also spoke of the significant changes they underwent after working with the Tibetan monks and nuns. Debora Dias, a recent graduate and current English teacher has had to rethink many things in her own life after this experience.
“I was concerned about the possible language barrier and that perhaps we would not be able to communicate well with the monks and nuns, but despite my fears, compassion and love are languages that transcend cultural distance,” Dias said. “This real-time exposure to the new language, culture, and belief has made me think critically about my philosophy of teaching and my philosophy of life.”
The Spy reporters returned to Worcester on June 5. Over the next several weeks, they will be publishing stories about their experiences and sharing what they have learned with Worcester readers.